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News from the Future Front

I'm going to be on the road again this week (same time, same place, same errand — more or less).

In the meantime, though, here's this month's Halting State moment; the BBC report that the police are on course to adopt smartphones wholesale by 2010.

Bedfordshire's force piloted the scheme. For a cost of £270 per officer per year, they managed to cut the time their constables spend in the station from 46% to 36% of their time on shift. (It's a hugely cost-effective measure, considering that pay for a trainee constable begins at £22,000, and goes up to around £36,000 with experience — never mind higher ranks).

Here's another prediction: Police aerial surveillance will switch largely (but not entirely) from choppers to UAVs over the next decade, once the government gets past the pilot stage and beats the home office into handing over some bandwidth for the robot eyes-in-the-sky. Choppers won't go away completely because they can provide direct intervention, dropping officers on the ground — but remotely piloted drones are an order of magnitude cheaper to buy and operate (and less annoying to those trying to sleep under the police helicopter's flight path).

But, pace this police sergeant's plaint, will they get single sign-on by 2020? Betcha they don't ... which leads me to wonder: given how far behind the curve public bodies generally run when it comes to picking up the tools created by the dotcom 2.0 boom, are they on course to catch up with, say, 2012's tech by 2022? Are they ever going to be able to catch up? If so, what are the administrative institutions that are going to have to change to make it possible?

Hint: yes, I am familiar with the existence of UK government IT procurement policy. That's the starting point for this discussion. If you want to rant about the natural incompetence of government or lecture me about how your IT department are evil because they won't let you play Myst on your work PC, please do so somewhere else.

(PS: This entry brought to you by the go-away-I'm-working-on-the-sequel-to-Halting-State department.)



Will go away and not bother you as soon as I wish you a Happy Birthday! (Yes, I know it's not until tomorrow.)


Actually, you're a day or two too late :)


Sorry - could have sworn it said the 20th, but when I looked again, it said the 18th. Someone else I know is tomorrow. The good wishes remain.


Re: UAV's - "once the government gets past the pilot stage" *wince* was that deliberate?

Re: Halting State weirdness - I just got a spam mail advertising a TV advert (really, Debenhams during the ad break in Coronation Street tonight). This has got to mean something about the direction the world is moving in or the delusional state in which marketing men live.

Re: Public Procurement - potential rant, suffice to say my 5 year old PC has been "upgraded" to one only 3 years old and I'm using an Eee netbook to suppliment my work PC. I'm tempted to do something really crazy and rig a mobile phone up as a workstation, but I'll save that for when Cameron cuts the budget by 90%..........

Oh, and Many Happy Returns :)


Wow, this is so far from having 160 terminals for the PNC, each at the end of a dedicated landline to Hendon. That was the original plan. It also means, though, that the PNC is accessible via TCP/IP, which must have some interesting consequences for security. I wonder how good their crypto is?

As for choppers, I don't think that UK forces ever (or more often than once a decade) use theirs to drop people off. The crew often are not police officers (opportunties for arrests are few and far between at 500 feet). And even if they do use them for transport once in a while, no way would that be cost-effective compared to 'a faster car', once UAVs can handle the actual surveillance mission. The showstopper would be air traffic control: you really don't want your UAV hitting the M1 at 120mph after going into safe mode during a high-speed chase.


Chris, see also, and this and this.

The times, they are a-changing.


UAVs .... the problem with civil use in European airspace is that they aren't cheaper than the manned alternative, nor will they be for some considerable time. If at all. The barriers are legal, certification and airspace management related. CAP 722 is a good place to start.

For a start they won't be cheaper to build. The liability problems associated with something falling out of the sky mean they will have to meet the same airworthiness regs - and these regs include the ground elements. Ditto the reqts for qualified engineers to maintain them. For use over urban areas, just like today's Police helos, they'll have two engines. (I know there's no-one on board but that's not the issue; it's who it lands on.)

Then there's certification - EASA won't mandate standards, they'll assess what industry provides. But industry won't invest without a clear goal. Initiatives like ASTRAEA seek to break this log jam but funding is low and timescales keep slipping.

The biggie though is "sense and avoid". Initiatives in free flight, 4-D networked navigation, GNSS augmentation and so on will reduce the problem in time to a point where technology can affordably catch up with dodging stuff nearby. However, that's also the point at which you can fly an airliner full of people round without a pilot. In theory.

Then there's the whole vexed question of data link security. What's the equivalent of a reinforced cockpit door in a ground based UAV control station ?

Where UAVs are used extensively it's either in a warzone (Afghanistan or Iraq) or somewhere where the military calls the shots on airspace use and/or certification (eg Israel). Thus the problems above go away.

And interestingly enough the latest fad is for "optionally manned" platforms for some ISR missions.


Phil W: I'm thinking there's probably a role for Micro-UAVs in urban surveillance. Max weight 5Kg, max speed 40km/h, launched from a van. It's not going to help with vehicle pursuits, but for anything happening on foot, or for stake-outs, they'd be handy (and less likely to damage anything they fell on).

Here's another question: for a fixed-wing UAV with the performance envelope of a police chopper (except for hover) -- say, 200km/h max speed, 1Km max altitude, 2-3 hours patrol time, two engines, IR and optical zoom cameras and a searchlight with, say, 2 million candlepower by 15 minutes' juice in the battery -- how small can you make it?

I suspect the ability to not carry half a ton of fleshbodies around is going to bring the price down somewhat, even if the safety margins still have to be civil general aviation grade (in case it falls on someone).


I'm not sure anybody is going to get single-sign-on in a practical sense. The problem is the widespread use of third-party applications that implement their own authentication system. Getting third-party vendors to support this kind of stuff is notoriously impossible, largely because the people who buy the applications (managers) don't care about it (even though they should).

As for administrative institutions that need to change... well, there's an ongoing complaint about the way Parliament's IT support publishes bills that are being drafted. Just the other week, one of the more progressive MPs proposed forming a committee to talk about ways in which they could reduce the amount of procedural barriers and red tape preventing anything from being done about it. Another initiative, that everybody agreed was a good idea, was hung up in committee for six months arguing over exactly how a 'postal address' field was to be subdivided and formatted. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, the Laundry's got nothing compared to those guys.


There is already a UAV which is compliant to European airspace rules: the Schiebel camcopter.

One system (ground control station + two drones) costs 2 million Euros and you don't need fully trained helicopter pilots to operate them (even in civilian european airspace), the German Navy plans to operate theirs with petty officer "pilots". Combined with the reduced maintenance and paperwork for unmanned system and not needing a fullup helicopter facility/airfield for operations you have

-far less capital costs
-less personnel costs
-less maintenance costs
-less infrastrucure costs

compared to helicopter operations. And you also have more endurance than your average police helicopter.

Aerial photography and survey companies mostly don't use airplanes or helicopters for urban missions anymore, they use souped up model helicopters for their photography and surveys which they start from normal car trailers(at a capital cost of 4-6k € per system their flight hours cost a fraction of helicopter hours).

As to governments and "2.0" there is a strong conservatism inherent in governmental bureaucracy. I do blame it on the European tradition of making a law degree or bar exam respectively the entry condition for "general" senior civil service. The Bologna Process opened this up to basically all Masters degree's recently but our governmental bureaucracies are still dominated by lawyers. And their reflex is to keep their a** to the wall and never uncover it by embarking on new policies/technologies/concepts. This is the real basis for the German joke:

CSO mikado - who moves first loses.



As far as small UAVs go you're quite right. As long as you're insured, you keep it low (400 ft IIRC) and within sight then everything's OK. The insurance premiums for Police urban ops might not be cheap though.

I take your point about not needing to carry humans, but then you do need to add a high integrity data link, autoland, associated antennas and so on. So your airframe is slightly smaller - but not that much smaller - than the equivalent manned airframe. IMHO.


The optimal way to adress safety at minimal cost is to make it small, and very, very light for its size. If it cant, physically, fall very quickly due to its crosssection being too big compared to its mass, and it weighs little enough, it doesnt really matter if it has a tendency to fall out of the sky whenever someone turns on a jammer, since anyone who gets hit on the noggin can pick it up and return it to the owner with no harm done. Basically, the nerfball UAW.


The optimal way to adress safety at minimal cost is to make it small, and very, very light for its size. If it cant, physically, fall very quickly due to its crosssection being too big compared to its mass, and it weighs little enough, it doesnt really matter if it has a tendency to fall out of the sky whenever someone turns on a jammer, since anyone who gets hit on the noggin can pick it up and return it to the owner with no harm done. Basically, the nerfball UAW.


This isnt even as much of a constraint on manuverability and speed as it might seem, since the common swallow isnt considered a hazard to anyones life and limb, despite being very fast indeed.


MicroUAVs, recovery parachutes, and official topcover to sit on any lawyers will push these forward quite quickly is my guess.


I'll guess with the incoming government axe to spending most police helicopters will get replaced with rotary UAVs as a cheaper, better alternative. Fixed wing aren't really a lot of use in this context, maybe just on the motorways stretches.

Airspace can be dealt with, they can be made to have very little 'impact' if they come down, balloons can be tethered over problem estates near permanently and the bandwidth issue isn't high when you think about it.

All that's left is the normal 'battery' problem.

Hot tip: want to become a multi-multi-millionaire? Patent a solution to high density, low weight, cheap energy storage and Bill Gates will be calling you "Sir".


Charlie: 200km/h max speed is a tall order for electrical UAVs. R/C model airplanes with this kind of performance are either electrical, extremely streamlined and fragile or powered by noisy two stroke engines (better power for mass) and still can't be too clunky or the air drag would be too high. Not to mention that they would fall out of the sky below (say) 50km/h because they can't have wings with too much lift or they would produce much too much drag at higher speeds. For this reason, lobbing one into the air on demand by your average field officer is pretty much out of the question. They would need a full fledged miniature airfield to operate from (and return to).


It'll be interesting to see what happens if someone who isn't the police finds out how handy these things are for surveillance *of* the police. Imagine a small drone hovering over a demonstration, broadcasting a live video stream of everything the police is doing.

If these things are autonomous and the components are cheap enough that you're prepared to write off the hardware (they almost are already) the whole thing can be flown anonymously.

Then there wouldn't be a need to bother with insurance.


Ian @14, want to be a multi-millionaire? Make an "I Can Haz Cheezburger" website (along with the rest of his, like LOLDog, Look-alikes, FAIL blog, etc.). The originator lives in the DC metro area and he was on the local news last night. He gets so many page views of his advertisers that he's got a company now and is making multi-millions



The first police priority at demonstrations is to make sure the local despot isn't embarrassed in the eyes of his peers by appearing to have inadequate control over his peasants. Independent monitoring of peasant protests and police retaliation is contrary to this objective and will not be tolerated.

The technical fix against peasant UAVs is broad-spectrum jamming and/or antiaircraft guns. The legal fix is to define the unauthorized operation of a UAV as an act of terrorism.

Make a habit of trying to use UAVs to monitor demonstrations and all three fixes will be put into effect.


@13: European or African? (sorry couldn't resist)

Charlie, slightly OT: I saw film this week of the UK Border Control people using handheld fingerprint scanners, apparently linking wirelessly to the database. You worte about this a month or so back. Comment?


Andrew @9: you'd be surprised - look into federated access management and in particular at the sizes of the various national federations....


Sheesh. This got me thinking about someone putting a Taser on a UAV. Sure enough, a bit of searching and it seems this is already at least being thought about....

I'm not sure how, but I expect Health and Safety will get in on this somehow. Probably from the wrong side.



in terms of government being progressive on IT, until the recent push to centralise and standardise everything in government, individual government departments were often well ahead of the curve. I used to work for the Australian Customs Service and we implemented EFT and EDI well before the great majority of the companies we dealt with, we were the driver for most of them to adopt these technologies. Often government led the way in IT in Australia in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Then of course everything was outsourced and innovation dropped dramatically. As an example, we had single sign-on well over a decade ago.



in terms of government being progressive on IT, until the recent push to centralise and standardise everything in government, individual government departments were often well ahead of the curve. I used to work for the Australian Customs Service and we implemented EFT and EDI well before the great majority of the companies we dealt with, we were the driver for most of them to adopt these technologies. Often government led the way in IT in Australia in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Then of course everything was outsourced and innovation dropped dramatically. As an example, we had single sign-on well over a decade ago.


The US Army as been working on a number of small UAVs and other robots, mostly to counter the historic monopoly by the Air Force. Many of them can be launched by hand, and operated by a single enlisted soldier in field conditions.

Something like that could easily be adopted to police needs, especially given the ease of technical support and repairs in a city compared to a battlefield. Probably faster than relying on fixed cameras if you're looking for a suspect on foot. I imagine it would be handy for patrol large areas, or in rural districts as well.

Some examples:

There are some more exotic devices in the works too.


ObBook about government being ahead of the IT curve is Jon Agar's fab _The Government Machine_.

One thing that I've noticed is that, prior to new tech being used to surveil us lot, it's usually used by senior police officers to keep tabs on their subordinates. Make of that what you will.


Don't fool yourself, most businesses, even big-ish ones, are slow to adopt technology. Where I work, the IT dept is stuck in 1998. 19" screens, 1G ram is standard, barely any developer knows what "TDD" means.

And we're supposed to be a technology company of sorts.


Its not a public agency issue. Doesn't matter, public or private, big or small. There are 'little leaps forward' in all types of orgs (I agree with Aussie doing great things with IT compared to say Canada). But I'd suggest the issue is more about process than technology.

Those coppers spend less time in the station because smartphones allow the officers to do their thing on the hoof rather than at their desk. But, I'll bet that any real efficiency gains are due more to improved process spurred by acquisition of new smartphones .. "say, now that we got these shiny phones, how can we use them ... lets look at how we do things around here ... " and voila, things get better. Further, this might be peculiar to that particular station. Anyways, its important to keep in mind technology is a tool not a magic wand. Got to use that tool the right way, eh?

As for UAVs, I like the Nerf-UAV concept, because guaranteed, there will falling from the sky.


niczar: I think you've forgotten what 1998 was really like -- I was #1 code monkey in a dot-com startup back then, and 1998 was 17" tube monitors, 128-256Mb of RAM, Pentium II 266MHz boxes all round, and I had no idea what TDD was because it didn't escape into the wild until 1999.

In computing practice, I suspect there was more change in 1998-2003 than in the preceeding decade (though I can't prove it and would find it hard to quantify). That's when internet access went from being something you did at home over a modem to being a ubiquitous business tool, when the megaherz wars increased clock speed by an order of magnitude in half a decade, ecommerce exploded, net infrastructure flourished, and the stupider early ventures went to the wall during the bursting of the bubble. Hmm.


genoki: the issue is more about process than technology.

(Bolded because this is a key insight, and a very important one.)

Yes. The processes any organization adopts are key to its success or failure, almost regardless of the technology they use (unless the tech enforces its own processes and they're aligned in opposition to the organization's goal -- technology is not value-free, after all).

Here's a random policing thought. The UK is about to be on the receiving end of at least four years of Conservative government. The Tories have noticed that Labour have a huge weakness for authoritarian centralizing technocracy and top-down controls; they've increased bureaucracy and monitoring while imposing micromanagerial operational constraints on everything from the police to primary school classrooms. Part of the Conservative's appeal is that they're going to cut red tape and bureaucracy and return autonomy to the people on the sharp end (i.e. teachers and constables, in this frame).

Whether they succeed or not is nearly irrelevant; what I find interesting is that they're going to be attempting this paradigm shift (or not -- we can't tell how serious they are about it yet) at a time when bandwidth and storage constraints are about to converge on the entry-level requirements for lifelogging.

Police video cameras on vans -- which are becoming ubiquitous -- are nothing: what I'm interested in is whether they'll follow the tech to its logical conclusion when it coincides with their ideology. Which is: put a video camera and a mike on every officer on duty, tagged with metadata like GPS coordinates, and stream it over the air to locked-down write-only media of record. You then in theory have an impartial witness that can be consulted in event that a dispute with a member of the public arises ... and can ditch a lot of the inflexible, costly, and inefficient monitoring and control frameworks that have evolved over the past decade: train the cops to use their discretion and use the monitoring capabilities both for evidence (when making arrests) and to enforce compliance with the regulations (i.e. no return to the bad old days of "he just fell down the stairs, guv" and similar abuses).

And if such a swing back towards autonomous policing happens, what are the second order consequences (how are individual cops and members of the public going to game the system)?


I am pretty sure this must exist, but yesterday when I looked it up nothing clear came up. But are there already such things as visual viruses? Patterns that interfere either with the quality of the image or with the processors treating the images?


Charlie @ 30:

With the addition of automated review of the logged data by some reasonably sophisticated pattern recognition software, and considering its potential effectiveness when compared to the likely much higher costs of doing similar manual (human) review, the art of assembling evidence to support a prosecution (of either the person in front of the camera, or the one behind it) might take some interesting turns.

An automated version of slow glass could be quite interesting. There is also the issue, however, of how well any automated system is likely to detect something totally outside the range of what it has been programmed to look for . . .


But are there already such things as visual viruses? Patterns that interfere either with the quality of the image or with the processors treating the images?

Well, there's been some interesting research done by Vernon Berryman at the Cambridge IV supercomputer facility, but I haven't heard anything recently...

Serious answer: depends on the sensor quality. You could use a very bright near-IR source. Most CCD cameras see further into the IR than the human eye, so a bright IR searchlight or strobe could dazzle one without being visible to passers-by. (Try it on your phone camera). Unless the sensor was filtered. And, of course, setting off one of those makes it obvious that something dodgy is happening even if you can't see exactly what.

On a lower-tech level, small check patterns or fine pinstripes tend to produce ugly moire patterns on camera - but that doesn't stop your face being recognisable, it just means that your tie looks ugly.
Hence the old news-readers' maxim: no stripes, no checks on camera.
Old Civil Service trick: if you don't want your select committee testimony turning up on the evening news, wear a fine-striped tie - no TV producer would run that footage...


Charlie @30 You *know* what would happen when the copper wanted to engage in a spot of illegality or had done something dodgy. How many times are CCTV cameras suspiciously 'not working' when an incident of police brutality is alleged?

Frankly you'd have to write into law that lack of video evidence = presumed guilt of the copper, and the tories will never do that. Or you would need to reverse the "no filming the police law" into a "no way to stop filming of police" to give any confidence.

Oh and you'd need truly independent oversight and monitoring of the watchmen - but an efficient organisation like that would be jailing 20% of coppers a year - which would kill recruitment and retention.


Andrew @9 Another initiative, that everybody agreed was a good idea, was hung up in committee for six months arguing over exactly how a 'postal address' field was to be subdivided and formatted.

Seriously? I found myself needing to do this a few years ago, and, as we subscribed to whatever-that-bit-of-the-post-office-called-itself-then's postal address database I spent an hour looking for the book that comes with the data, copied down what it suggested and within two weeks we had approval for that (and everything else for the update to our Caravan Insurance - this was last in the spec as everyone thought it was someone else's job to deal with it) from senior management, even the marketing director.

On the other hand, maybe really efficent government wouldn't be an unmixed blessing.


Frankly you'd have to write into law that lack of video evidence = presumed guilt of the copper

PACE essentially assumes that unrecorded interview evidence is inadmissible unless proven otherwise. No tape, no evidence. So presumed unreliability is possible.

I actually think that as well as surveillance and sousveillance, self-monitoring is going to be a big trend; soiveillance. Do we know where we were? Can we refute the charges?

I recently read about a US Army unit in Afghanistan that was carrying GPS loggers everywhere in order to know where, in fact, they went on the ground when they went out of camp - not where they planned to go, or where they should have gone, or where they thought they were, but where they actually went. The point was twofold - partly to check whether the standing orders to vary their routes were being followed, but also, more interestingly, to discover strategically important places and times.

For example, if the patrols always tend to end up passing through the same area, this is information - among other things it suggests that anybody operating around there will tend to use that particular road, or that call-outs for the quick reaction force tend to happen in some particular area in time and space, or that you never find Sheikh So-and-So near X on Tuesdays. The practice was supposedly borrowed from the British Army in Northern Ireland.

Accounting is, of course, the original case of soiveillance; and with the development of management accountancy it's been repurposed to provide information about operations as well as about financing.

Interestingly, I came across someone filming two police officers questioning the traditional young black man on the Holloway Road not so long ago. Unlike my own experience of this, they didn't molest him in any way; this is the post-G20 era.


I've never heard of normal police actually deploying by helicopter. The opportunities for landing in urban terrain are pretty limited. If you need to deploy force that quickly you'd mainly be talking special forces types abseiling down and even then there's a risk an armed target might knock the chopper down (eg Rio). If as in western countries, the govt has a monopoly on force, then time is on their side, and it's just a matter of not losing track of the target while forces are moved around on the ground.

I'd see the real value of a light UAV being stealth. A relay of orbiting quiet electric fixed wing autonomous UAVs would make stakeouts much easier.


Charlie @ 30:

I suspect that a lot of police will oppose this. Well, until the first big demo is life-logged by the crusties, live streamed to an offshore server and then served up as carefully selected highlights on the web. The Ian Tomlinson case shows the way a single video can completely change perceptions, and if only one side is releasing footage the possibilities for manipulating opinion are obvious.

As a bonus, the thought of the Police being told "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" makes me smile. Karma.


ajay @33 "Old Civil Service trick: if you don't want your select committee testimony turning up on the evening news, wear a fine-striped tie - no TV producer would run that footage..."

Does this still apply in the era of HD? I will admit to never having seen a fine-striped tie on an HD screen.


It seems to me that as soon as UAV surveillance comes into function, tricks like that fine-striped tie and of course the somewhat more advanced versions will become of great value. Since inherently more UAVs mean less cops,or so it will become as soon as accountants and budget analysts accept the idea.

Warm nights would immediately be crime feasts as thermal imagery looses effectivity, once global warming pushes night temperature to 37 degree Celsius anyway.

It would be easier to fool an operator watching through a camera than an experienced "on the ground" cop. Cat burglars dressed in spandex suits with redbrick wall patterns.


Tangential to the above, but relevant I think, in relation to second-order consequences and Civil Service procedures, there was a case in Ireland a few years back where a payroll system project for the Health Service (Irish NHS) imploded after €100m plus had been spent on it. The Minister for Health claimed he had been unaware of any problems, his Private Secretary begged to differ. However, in an effort to reduce exposure to journalistic FoI requests (and consequent embarrasments), a culture had developed in the Department of Health that avoided recording in writing anything that might directly imply personal responsibility. Thus, said Private Secretary could not point to any one communication on record where he explicitly flagged a problem to his political master.

The point: Lifelogging will also, likely, be subject to FoI requests, internal audits, etc. Given that, I suspect the circumvention starts at what they logging tool cannot possibly record. So, will handwritten notes make a return, for example? Beware cops walking around with a handy block of Post-Its in his back pocket?


I was briefly in Canada in 1996, when the TV was broadcasting the inquiries into the Somalia scandal, the one that led to the Canadian army's paratroop regiment being disbanded forever.

One of the witnesses - a woman high up in the defence ministry, IIRC - confessed to making all her notes on post-it notes, for the maximum possible deniability when the fit hit the shan.


Charlie: "And if such a swing back towards autonomous policing happens, what are the second order consequences (how are individual cops and members of the public going to game the system)?"

It really depends on who has access to that data, and under what circumstances. We've seen in the past 8 years in the USA that classification and a desire by prosecutors to Not Go There is very effective at protecting official wrongdoing.


Having just finished Halting State (yes I know it's been out a while but somehow I never found the time) it's exciting to hear about another book but of course it will probably be 2020 before its actually published due to the book industry continuing use of dead trees.


Closer to being on topic, Cameras in Classrooms sometimes gets discussed at the school I work at. Clearly it will happen eventually, and I think we need to get ahead on it to maximise the usefulness ("See what your little angel actually does in class Mrs Parent?") while minimising the downsides ("You're teaching my child wrong! I demand you all be fired and sued and strung up (and not by the neck)!")

All the kids have cameras in their phones already. I don't.


Brian: it's due out on July 2nd, 2011. (That's because the book that's due out on July 2nd 2010 is already in the production pipeline, which shuffles along in very slow lockstep with the other umpty-squillion authors in the queue so that everyone can keep up.)


[so that everyone can keep up]

Not least the loyal readers. I have four shelves behind me now of "waiting to be reads" plus a heap on the floor. OK, not all Charlie's, and not even all newly published when I bought them. And I don't want the rate of production slowed down, of course. But at least that delay provides some buffering.



Sufficiently powerful laser pointers can temporarily dazzle or permanently disable CCTV cameras. 500mw lasers do not do pleasant things to CCD chips.

Strangely, governments are getting very keen on keeping lasers out of peasant hands.


Moire is still a problem with HDTV but you can get away with finer patterns on HD before artifacting becomes apparent.


It would appear you're counting the possibility of catching a teacher in the wrong as a 'downside' of classroom CCTV. Given the inherent power differential in the classroom, monitoring the teacher--with audio--to deter blatant abuses of power is much more important than monitoring the students for compliance with arbitrary authority.



Yes, this actually happened. It's just one of the many stupid things that has happened in the history of the Coordinated Online Register of Electors, which is little more than a national database of the names and addresses of all the people in the UK who are registered to vote, yet has spent eight years in discussion and consultation without making the slightest jot of progress.

And no, there isn't a good reason for it.


Apropos 35 and 49, let me just add that I am periodically reduced to tooth-splintering fury by javascript data-validation code on web forms were written by numpties who are certain that house numbers in the UK can contain only the digits 0-9 and the letters A-Z -- so that an address recognized by the Post Office as being number "38/6" or "3F2, 36" on its street is rejected as illegal.

(Yes, that's how the Post Office in Scotland formats the street number of my apartment. "3F2" means "third floor, flat 2" at the designated stairwell number. Does the Post Office's opinion count? Not with the designers of these databases, it seems ...)


More HALTING STATE moments. Apparently the vast bulk of US sex offenders are between 14 and 16. The database-tainted are indeed going to be a major demographic.


Alex: I'm not happy to have gotten that particular prediction right. (But, lest we forget, in 2006 more men were prosecuted in the UK for "gross indecency" -- consensual sex with other men -- than in 1966, when homosexuality was still flat-out illegal.)


Or stuff like my US mailing address, which contains both a letter after the number, and a box number (frex, 1234A Thatta Way #567).
Ghu help them if they ever have to deal with _fractional_ addresses (something like 235 1/4 Thisa Way).

(There are large parts of the US where addresses are mailbox numbers on carrier routes, like 'Route 2, Box 152'. You can get FedEx and UPS deliveries, but you may have to describe the physical location.)


Curmudgeon @48: Yes, sufficiently powerful laser pointers can dazzle CCTVs. They can also do the same to human eyes. Round these parts, any muppet can walk out of a shop with a 50mW Class 3 laser, sufficient to cause temporary blindness.

Speaking as someone who's quite keen on not being blind, I'm happy for governments to restrict higher powered lasers, coz lasers + stupidity is a dangerous combination. For example:


@ 48 I thought, that with xare, building YOUR OWN HeNe laser wasn't too difficult.
And even they can put out quite enough power.
there is also the persistent rumour (probably untue) about simultaneously beaming microwaves along the same line - causes real screw-ups to electronics....

As for UAV's what you need over urban areas are slow and reliable, something like:
This , or This , or even This .
Im sure there are better versions around by now.


Curmudgeon @48 It would appear you're counting the possibility of catching a teacher in the wrong as a 'downside' of classroom CCTV.

I don't have a problem with being told I'm wrong, or teaching non-optimally, or my classroom management is counter-productive and being given constructive criticism to try put it right. I do have a problem with parents who believe their child is always right and anything the parent or child doesn't like must be put right, right now or [various threats].

Teachers make mistakes. A small minority of parents believe that's unacceptable for their little darlings, and while we're at it, can we stop them swearing, fighting and drinking and smoking (outside school). And any punishment is always too harsh, by the way.

My concern is that it could lead from micro-management by OFSTED/LEA to micro-management by parents, and the most vocal minority of parents at that*. Cameras stopping abusive use of power is a positive. Cameras mitigating unfair accusations is also a positive.

While you're right about which is more important, when I'm legally responsible** for a dozen teenagers who will happily fight each other, make themselves faint, climb on top of cupboards, throw sharp objects about the room and set fire to things, I'll take as much arbitary authority as I can get.

* Worst case scenario, micro-management by parents and the government.
** Also morally responsible for teaching them enough maths to pass an exam and function as adults.


On the various UAV options, it looks as though they need a specialist operator. It isn't going to be something chucked into the air by the average plod.

Thinking about the numbers, an Army will be happy with finding one soldier in a thousand who can fly the things. You can see them being deployed at battalion level, if they can do that.

But that's only 30 operators in the Metropolitan Police, and shifts, leave, and court appearances will give you 6 or 7 for the whole of London.

That does sound better than helicopters, but it's not going to be commonplace.

And London airspace is a bit cluttered. The control system, however it's divided between operator and UAV, has to keep the things from interfering with airliners and the helicopter traffic using the Thames.

I don't think we're going to see a drones-everywhere environment until the tech lets them operate where human-manned aircraft can't, swooping in the darkness around buildings.

Is that when the Commissioner has to resort to a Bat-Signal?


An even better countermeasure than the ones I listed above is interceptor UAVs. Of course the weight of a gun or other projectile weapon with more than one round would be excessive. Instead, design the interceptors for jousting. Put knives, rakes, or spurs on them, and fly the interceptors past the targets so the blades cut them. Do enough damage to the control or lifting surfaces or take out the control electronics and the bird is dead.


Oh how embarrasing. The comment I referenced isn't there; the post errored out for some reason. Well, the countermeasures I mentioned were RF interference with the control signals, BB's fired from pellet guns or slingshots, lasers to blind the optics, and, when the drones are flying low, nets to catch them or bolos to tangle their props.


The obvious is a radio jammer; hook it up to a car or house current, and broadcast on a spread of frequencies.

This is only temporary, however; from what I've read about US Predators in Afghanistan, they have programmed actions to perform if control is lost (move to a loiter pattern, then fly back to base and ask for guidance, and finally to attempt a landing back at base).


Rather than joust, why not make yr interceptor droid a suicide bomb? Put a shotgun cartridge (birdshot) in the bow. Lovely for CoG problems too, though perhaps a tad antisocial.

30 Met police UAV operators are not going to be coming into court, because they will be civilians not officers, just as police helicopter pilots and CCTV operators don't often come to court. But training, leave, and sleep will still leave just 5 on duty at any one time. 5 is probably going to be enough to meet most calls, though. Call it a total cost (procurement, supervision, toys) of a million and a half pounds a year. That's more than two helicopters, IIRC, but what you're getting is five (less capable and perhaps not all-weather) points in the sky rather than one. In other words, someone else is going to have to develop this to off-the shelf reliability before the cops will consider it as a 24/7 option.

In classic police tech style, I would predict that initial deployment of UAVs would be for set-piece timed operations with lots of political backing. Eg policing arms fairs or an anti-terrorist (perhaps anti-'terrorist') raid or two. In those cases, you need two UAVs (in case one breaks), one base station, and two operators (in case one breaks). Total cost would be less than £150,000, which would be lost in the budget noise in some of the Met's larger 'guns, etc.' departments.


Across the pond cities & states have privatized services, leased toll roads. Why not surveillance blimps hawking products? Yes, mini-Goodyear blimps combining Advertising and Big Brother! I know it's not an original idea, so some ad guy is probably working on it.


Vic @ 62: Only two simultaneous revenue sources? How about adding contracted broadcast station X "news" coverage on-demand, or even better, bidding out the same as opportunity permits?

(FYI, I have worked professionally in local radio and TV news. 'Tis not for the faint of heart . . . or stomach.)


It is amazing how long some stuff takes to trickle down. US Law enforcement has only been using night vision goggles for a few years, while the military has been flying with them since the early 80's

US Airborne LEO is slowly moving toward fixed wing away from helicopters. Helicopters are very expensive compared to fixed wing in terms of maintenance and acquisition costs. For the surveillance mission it's a lot cheaper to simply orbit at 10,000 feet and follow the suspect with a sensor pod.


I figured any police UAV would either operate in Class A or visual airspace; that is, really high--where nothing goes--or really low--where no one cares, and would be some kind of Predator/Global Hawk analogue. Just have a couple of them semi-permanently orbiting above London/New York/Los Angeles/wherever, and redirect as necessary.

Sufficiently powerful laser pointers can temporarily dazzle or permanently disable CCTV cameras. 500mw lasers do not do pleasant things to CCD chips.

Strangely, governments are getting very keen on keeping lasers out of peasant hands.

As Jez mentioned, a 500 mW laser is quite enough to blind someone, possibly permanently (depending on wavelength). A CCD and a retina are, practically speaking, just variously-competent implementations of each other, after all. Access to guns is controlled--why not blinding instruments? A weapon's a weapon...

Another Halting State story I saw was that Cleveland (Teesside) Police are going to get handheld finger-print locked computers with access to police databases and crimint and the like...


Fingerprint sensors are around on flash drives, aren't they? Maybe if the Police are using the things to control access to their own data, we might get a bit less unreal hype on the subject.

Maybe not.


One attempt to bypass the cost problems of a heicopter was the Edgley Optica. That's something from thirty years ago, when Police helicopters were still relying on Mark 1 Eyeball sensors. The history seems troubled, and I wonder if it would have the payload for modern equipment.

Might be more useful for traffic-related duties along rural motorways.

Which might not be a bad early role for UAVs. Are we thinking too much about urban crime?

Incidentally, Police helicopters do apparently get shot at. Low and slow, remember. But you still have to lead a pheasant or grouse.


A HALTING STATE thought: SPOOKS is essentially a crowdsourced Territorial Army for the secret services. Weekend Stasi. STEAMING is at least potentially a crowdsourced goon squad - not so much rent-a-mob as pay-to-participate-in-a-mob. Pick out the especially aggro and cunning participants. But who's in charge and who are the targets?

Come to think of it, that personality test Jack Reed implemented for STEAMING's signup process. What kind of personality was it testing for? He says it was to screen out the psychos, but then he's an unreliable narrator and you know what they're like. (Poor impulse control and high social authoritarianism index?)


A "good" use for laser mounted UAVs

I just hope a mosquito doesn't land on my head.



I don't know if you've seen this. I thought it might interest you:

72:'s an anti-Halting State moment. Something that was not really predictable and may or may not yield benefits, but suppose it worked.. (I think it will work. If the same things works on both rats and mice, and it's a pretty simple tweak)

Even if it were illegal, I think people would still pay a lot of money for a drug that could increase intelligence and learning by just say 30%. Even if side effects included risk of psychosis or delusions.
I know I would..

Anyway, I think the 'human dignity' crowd will smother any research into human intelligence enhancement in the West. And three decades later, we'll be polishing the shoes of countries that don't give a shit about dignity.


DaveBell @68 is right, there is too much focus on crime (fighting). Criminals could just as well use UAV technology, firstly you would expect the things to be Police owned, not stealthy drug couriers.

My neighbours noticed two young men scoping my house, would they see an UAV? Successful criminals have a natural drive to become highly organized, Columbian drug cartels were at some point were using submarines to ship drugs, so why not UAVs? One could consider specialization within the criminal enterprises, consider stolen credit card numbers that are resold to other groups, similarly certain groups could scope targets and resell the info. Thugs and geeks each finding their niche.

But if an UAV can deliver something incapacitating for the police, it can just as well deliver something similar for criminals. The Lasers mentioned for blinding UAVs and operators are powerful enough to ignite something. Airborne arson.


Been playing around with 'text analysers' lately. Used online text analyser on this webpage ..see results at link below:

Just by a quick perusal of word/phrase freq tables someone would know what page topic is about .. same concept as tags, heat maps, etc.

Anyways, point is that UAVs, used in any way, along with choppers, CCTV security cams, bobbies on foot reporting in on smartphones, surveys of traffic in cell towers, etc.. run it all through statistical analysis, and voila out of pieces comes narratives, clues, etc. Again, its all about process, not the tools, though the tools enhance process.

I am sure this is already being done. Chinese had their CCTV input face recog across Beijing done for Olympics (think it was IBM, Siemens who did it for them).

Gotta admit gov's are ahead on this application of IT right? Although Walmarts and the like do video traffic analysis of shoppers ..


SATTELITE IS where its at and will be, militaryblack ops satellites,
put it this way, the big cities will soon be courted by the defense controctors or already have, and they use this data, to track everyone, we have the computing power already,
my geuss is its been happening for a while, of course the public is and always willl be in the dark. over and out.


Offtopic for Charlie: seen this? It *seems* to be a Lego version of Second Life, though as it's partly aimed at children one presumes it won't be colonised by furries to quite the same extent.


@75: You might be right for semi-real-time surveillance, but I suspect that you'd need to use Russian or Chinese satellites for said surveillance, at least in the US or UK. Our satellites allegedly don't surveil us. Really.

OTOH, if you're a city, you can go to your local model airplane club, find the clever ones who have already mounted cameras and GPS units on their planes, and pay them. It's probably cheaper, if you can get the regulations cleaned up to allow model plane (i.e. UAV) overflights in your city.

In a "welcome to the 21st Century moment," the polling station near a close relative's house recently closed. She lives at the end of a long dead-end road in the mountains. The new polling place is 12 miles away (out the road, over to another road, all the way up that road, and talk your way past the gate guard on the development that now hosts the polling place).

Why the change? If you use Google to find her house, Google has screwed up, and mistakenly labels a bunch of hiking trails as passable roads. The fast route to her house now invariably sends you onto a hiking trail, and if you travel on said trails, the new polling place is only a few miles away.

Apparently, the registrar of voters in her area is now using Google Maps to determine the location of polling places. Economically it makes sense, but only if Google doesn't get sloppy. And they are getting sloppy. That's not the only mapping error I've seen recently, just the most egregious one.

Unsurprisingly, Google refuses to acknowledge their screwup and fix their maps. Both of us have tried to get it fixed and failed. She's now planning on sicc'ing an investigative reporter on that Registrar of Voters and on Google.

As I said, welcome to the 21st Century.


Tetrarch @73

You mean the Self-Propelled-Semi-Subrmersibles (SPSS)

It's astonishing how many of them are being used (and how comparatively few are caught). They are not only used on their "highway" along the western coast of Latin America but also in intercontinental drug smuggling. The newer development is their use by terrorists. They are a way of transporting 5-20 tons of anything even through some of the most highly surveilled waters and across intercontinental distances aand are built in jungle clearings under the most primitive circumstances. The dangers posed by their eventual combination with other readily available technologies are frightening, but I shan't speculate more on that topic here.


@77: Ye canna break the laws of physics... KH-11, the biggest spy satellites Up There, size of a bus, they cost a few hundred million bucks a pop, they have a mirror about 90 inches across and they can resolve as a sensor pixel an area on the ground about 3 inches across under very limited circumstances i.e. they have to be directly above the target area, not a cloud in the sky, no dust or pollution or mirage, perfect lighting conditions and the target has to be outdoors. To follow a person on the ground this satellite would have to be able to recognise the top of someone's head as a pattern of six to eight pixels and differentiate them from all the other heads in its field of view. Oh look, Mister Target is in a crowd, oh look Mister Target has put on a baseball cap, oh where is Mister Target? Did I mention that the KH-11s fly in quite low orbits to optimise their ground viewing capabilities and go from horizon to horizon in about 40 minutes and hence they can't linger over an area to provide any sort of target-over-time capability? Mostly they're used in the real world to look at big things like ports, military bases, ships, airfields etc. recording snapshots over a period of days or even years. They're bloody useless to monitor individuals real-time, no matter how paranoid they appear.

It's a lot easier to use stuff at ground level -- CCTV cameras, mobile phone tracking records, manned observation teams etc. to track the handful of Bad Boys the Powers have an interest in. The rest of us are safely ignorable in our own person as not worth the expense of recording our day-to-day movements.

As for using "lightweight" UAVs for surveillance have you ever had a two-kilo weight with high-speed rotating blades fall on your head? Use such devices over large crowds for observation purposes and they will hurt someone, possibly fatally when they stop working and fall into a baby's pram or smash into a car's windscreen on the motorway. A couple of expensive and highly public lawsuits and they will disappear from the public arena leaving their heavily armed brethren flying over battlefields where legal briefs are less of an operational consideration.


That registrar hasn't yet found out what the aerial photos and the street-view (if available) are good for?
('Bing' has pretty much the same aerial photos, and bird's-eye (oblique) views instead of ground-level street views. Not as detailed, but sometimes more useful.)


@80: The one I'm grumpy about in this situation is Google. I can't honestly blame the registrar of voters: after all, Google is free, and in an era of budget cutbacks where they're feeling strong pressure to close some voting precincts, I can easily see someone sitting down and using Google Maps or Google Earth to figure out how to aggregate their sites. Google might have noticed that they were sending someone up a fire-road, after all, it's labeled as such on every single map they could possibly get. That's simple sloppiness.

Edit: oh gee, I just noticed that Google has "fixed" the problem. Now they send traffic down another fire road. No street view in or on said fire road. Come on, Google!

As for model airplanes, we'll see. I suspect some genius is going to come up with a shrouded propeller on a powered glider (or perhaps even a blimp or mini-zeppelin), and off they'll go. Alternatively, people are talking about using ultra-long duration UAVs as flying cell phone antennas. Perhaps the cops will simply strap a bunch of cameras on those UAVs, since they're already going to be up there...


heteromeles: I'm just back from visiting the elderly relatives. Guess what? Google Maps on my iPhone 3G misplaces their (short, tiny) street -- they've got it about 200 metres from its real location and on the wrong side of a main road.

This is not the first time I've run into Google Maps' inaccuracy, either.


'Bing' used to be Microsoft's map site. It's also free.

I use them at work to check 'ground truth' for our maps (as in 'which corner of this intersection is this stuff really on?').


I started looking some more. Here's what has happened, in at least two entire counties in California: Google has mapped all of the fire roads as "roads."

Because of our earlier complaints, they took out the one fire road we complained about (two years later!) and now Google maps shuffles people onto the next roads out.

In California (and the rest of the US), the topographic maps show a number of different road levels, from unimproved dirt path to paved highway (I'm simplifying, as I don't have one in front of me). Some bright bulb at Google has apparently been going through all the topographic maps and labeling anything any type of road as a paved road suitable for travel.

This is a serious problem: most of the fire roads are behind locked gates, and are passable only with four wheel drive. I already know of one incident where someone was headed to a party at night and spent hours trying to find a paved road that wasn't there. He was also out of cell phone range, since these fire roads are in the mountains where coverage is spotty at best.

The other interesting thing is I tried three times to report the problem to google (right click on the map, report the problem). Each time, I got an error message, and my report didn't go through.

Anyone else run into this problem? I thought this was idle chit-chat about a stupid use of technology by a registrar, and it turns out there's a far more serious issue. Damn.

All I have to say is: if you're trying to get somewhere in the California mountains using Google maps, double check every part of your route to make sure it's a real road, ideally before you get in your car. In many places, you won't be able to call for help on a cell phone if you get lost or stuck.


Google Maps were, and to some extnbt, still are complete CRAP for this country.
As well.
They suffer from US-centrism, so, until recently, even in London, they would show "Tube" stations, but not National Rail ones - and sometimes even missed the tracks out as well.
So, if you were a stranger, relying on Google for, say, S. London, there is NO rail-transport - WRONG.
They have partially fixed this (after LOTS) of complaints, but they still haven't got it completely right.

This IS relevant to our discussin about UAV's incidentally.
No matter how good the technology, if the setters-up and/or the operators and/or users are stupid, it will screw up.

Try looking up the battle of Lissa for a classic example of that.

Oh, last thought about UAV's.
Is it time for a revival of an OLD miltary-observation technology?
Tethered ballons, with cameras strapped to the underside?
REALLY cheap, you only need the thnnest wire, which is also the tether-cable to carry the signal down to the operators/viewers.


Greg: baloons have a single problem -- weather. But then, most urban surveillance aircraft have a problem with bad weather, too.

On the subject of drones and risk (for those below), I'd like to repeat my proposition that further development of ballistic recovery has the potential to be a game-changer.


Remember Obama Inauguration with random digital photos stitched into panoramic view? I think it was MS Photosynth ..

Google Streetview is similar.

Anyways just using these off-the-shelf tools and desktop computer, a police agency could use a variety of imagery from hand-held, chopper/flight, uav, cctv, to get situational awareness ad-hoc or continuously.

re Ballistic recovery .. consider artillery style projected camera that arcs over area of interest is retrieved. Like ping pong balls, but w heft enough to carve trajectory, light enough not to cave skull in. $10 return payment if found ..


heteromeles, I just looked at the Google map for my development and the dirt road the City uses to manage the branch behind the development is clearly there, but not marked as a road. (My van is in its parking spot, too.)


@88: Good news, Marilee. I've noticed that not all fire-roads are marked, just the ones that are on the topo maps. That's still enough to cause trouble.


It's interesting to see how the UK police are embracing technology as a tool; in Ireland the story appears completely reversed. No Garda stations are officially internet-enabled (only one or two have sub rosa links in place), the PULSE computer system is the butt of more than a few jokes, not all the stations have access to it, communications has been a bit of a joke, and even paper records carry something of a stigmata. I have to admit, reading Halting State there was a rather jarring dissonance between the portrait of UK police operations and those in Ireland - it's such a massive disparity that it seems implausible that it'd exist between two states so closely located and so closely linked. How the Gardai and the EU are going to get on in the future is going to be interesting, since the EU are, if anything, even more like the UK police when it comes to records and technological usage levels.


There's a road like this between North Kelsey and Hibaldstow in Lincolnshire. It dates back to the construction of the New River Ancholme, because property and admin boundaries followed the line of the Old River. The New River is a large navigable drainage channel.

There's a road on both sides, paved, with pumping stations where the roads come to the river bank. There's also a bridge, for Hibaldstow farmers to get to the bit of Hibaldstow on the North Kelsey side of the river, and a chunk of rough, unpaved, track along the river bank to make the connection.

I've driven this route in a Land Rover, and it is somewhat interesting, in the Chinese sense.

Way back, before Google and the well-known Internet, these paved roads showed up on British road atlases, and the common combination of scale and page-size would put the river-bank area in the fold. And a millimetre or two error in the binding would make the river-bank area invisible.

Sometimes non-local drivers would think there was a road.

One of the similar bridges north of Lincoln had a loaded lorry try to cross it and plunge through the deck.

And there can be copy-traps in local maps. There may be something in Brigg, with the junction of Redcombe Lane and Ash Grove. The local council did some stuff to "control" traffic. It's apparent on current Google Earth pictures (April/May '08) where the line marking Redcombe Lane is unbroken. but you can see the barriers cutting it in two.

Post Code databases can have errors too. I know of one instance where a postcode, for a business on the edge of the old RAF Faldingworth (the other side to the Nuclear Weapons Store) would be mapped to a location high in the Wolds. And my current Post Code, according to some search engines not controlled by the Post Office, didn't exist.

One was a Government department. The more stuff the politicians turn into a "profit centre", the more it costs to maintain your database, shuffled from one government pocket to another.



Been done in fiction - read Desmond Bagley's "The Spoilers"
(1970s thriller - must reread it sometime); the MacGuffin is the use of a torpedo to deliver heroin to a beach, accurately, from well outside the 3-mile limit. A torpedo is, after all, an unmanned, autonomous, vehicle; with a several-hundred-kilo payload.

As for Army UAVs, the big argument is the processes and turf wars involved in manning and using them appropriately. See here for the British end of the discussion:
and read the whole thread for some interesting insight...

Note 1: ARRSE is the ARmy Rumour SErvice - an anonymous forum (all-ranks; Private Soldier to apparently at least one Major-General), by and for those in and around the British Army. It varies in quality and reliability of contributor and content; black humoured, occasionally NSFW - but it has some real gems. You might think that being the British Army it would be stuffy and hierarchical; nope. That's left to the "official" forum (ArmyNET) which is restricted, not anonymous, and much less fun.

Note 2: If you want a laugh, look at the ARRSE wiki
Inaccurate in places, occasionally biased, but can be very funny...



Ref. Ballistic recovery - the Phoenix UAV (now out of service) used that system for twenty years.
When it was time to land, it opened a parachute and landed on an airbag.

You might want to consider the ScanEagle's "SkyHook" system - no need for a parachute, it's a cheap and cheerful UAV which catches a wire when it wants to land (because it started life as a sea-based system for fishermen, and parachuting into the sea was undesirable).



Actually, I'd say that balloons have two problems: weather and immobility. (Well, immobility for tethered balloons; very slow motion for powered blimps, which is a lesser issue with a much more expensive solution.) If your camera points are fixed, anyone who really wants to avoid them can, and the cameras attached to balloons merely become very expensive cctv posts. Want to be criminal without getting caught? Walk ten yards down a narrow alley or hide behind a building....

Now tethered balloons as relay posts for fixed wing UAVs, that I can see - reasonably careful design allows you to have tight-beam communication between them, preventing jamming, in a way that really isn't practical from a rooftop.


An article in the WashPost this weekend said the rich counties around DC have the portable fingerprint and picture match computers, and loan them to the poor counties. Identifying the dead takes a lot less time in many cases, and they're catching a lot of people using someone else's identity.


@92: Heck, I saw the idea of using wire-guided jackrabbits on speed used as cross-border drugs couriers in the back of a Fat Freddy comic book as far back as the early 70s...



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